26 Practical Steps to a Healthier You: Eat Real Food {Week 15}

For the next 26 weeks I will be sharing a different way you can become healthier in your daily life. Some of these suggestions have to do with food or exercise, others have to do with lifestyle changes, but all of them are practical and relatively easy to execute. You may already be practicing some of these habits, but hopefully you’ll be inspired by at least one or two new ideas you can begin to implement.

Eat Real Food
 
REAL FOOD IMPROVES COGNITIVE FUNCTIONING
Former yo-yo dieter Darya Rose says, “People are finally realizing that what’s good for your health and good for your waistline are the same.” My husband has recently come to this conclusion, too. He’s never had a weight problem, but up until this summer his diet consisted of hot dogs or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every single day for lunch. He was also known for his sweet tooth. Rarely would he ever skip a night of dessert. But that all changed once he realized that his eating habits were affecting his cognitive functioning.
Neuroscientist Daniel Amen has found that the more obese an individual is, the smaller their physical brain becomes. He likes to call it the “dinosaur syndrome,” in which an individual has a “big body… small brain… become[s] extinct.”  But even if an individual is not overweight, a steady diet of processed and sugary foods (including starches and white flour, rice, etc.) dulls memory skills and spatial learning.
Since changing his diet to include a large salad at lunch, snacking on nuts or fruit or frozen peas, and avoiding all dessert, my husband has repeatedly noted a marked difference in his mood, energy levels, and clarity of thought. He never realized before how much brain fog and fatigue had plagued him.
REAL FOOD IS MEDICINE
God has blessed us with an abundance of food on this earth, but unfortunately in our drive to “simplify” mealtime and increase profits, we have sacrificed our health with the consumption of processed foods. Have you looked at the list of ingredients on that box of macaroni & cheese, lately? Can you pronounce the name of every ingredient used to make your box of crackers? Do you realize how many forms of sugar are hidden in even your tomato sauce and yogurt? [See my previous posts on how to “decrease your sugar intake” and ways to “purge your pantry” for more information on the dangers of sugar and processed foods.]
On the contrary, when you eat food the way God intended, it has great healing properties. I did an entire series on ABC Superfoods if you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of various superfoods, but I’ll give you a few examples.
Oats are an effective and far less expensive way to lower cholesterol than drugs are. The pigment lycopene found in tomatoes is believed to help the elderly remain active longer. The bromelain contained in pineapple helps to reduce the risk for cancer and is one of the best anti-inflammatory agents that has been researched. Kale supplies more iron than beef and more calcium than milk.
REAL FOOD CAN BE AFFORDABLE
I can hear your objection: But healthy food is SO expensive! I used to have the very same thought process. However, the more I learn about how unhealthy processed food is, the more I realize I cannot afford NOT to buy healthy food. Did you know that people with diabetes spend about 2.3 times as much on healthcare than those without diabetes? And guess what the number one cause of diabetes is? DIET. Further, those who followed a Mediterranean diet reduced their risk for heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease deaths by 30% in five years. Now which bill would you rather pay: your grocery bill or an emergency room bill? Here are some tips to decrease the cost of real food:
Buy in-season. I make a point to only purchase fruit and vegetables when they are on sale. Sometimes I have to make an exception, but sticking to this one rule has saved me a lot of money and has kept variety in our refrigerator.
Purchase frozen fruits & veggies. When fruits or veggies are not in season, it is best to purchase them frozen. Usually it’s cheaper to buy them this way. These are great for smoothies and stir-fry.
Buy in bulk. I purchase a good portion of my groceries at Costco. Since my husband and I make it a point to eat healthy, we go through a large bag of spinach in a week and a half. Costco definitely has the best bulk deals for our dietary needs.
Make freezer meals. If you are busy and find it difficult to cook from scratch every night, make an extra batch of noodle-less lasagna or homemade quiche and stick it in the freezer for a quick, healthy meal for another night.
Slice & Dice ahead of time. When I get home with my bulk purchase of veggies, I immediately chop them up and put together salads for the coming week. I also slice up carrot and celery sticks and place them in easy to-go containers for a healthy and easy snack later in the week. This one step decreases the temptation for me to grab an unhealthy alternative when I become hungry.
Make Soups. This is the perfect way to use vegetables that have been in your refrigerator a while and need to be used up. It’s also great because you retain all the nutrients in the broth, unlike boiled or sauteed veggies.
Make and pack your own snacks. Rather than purchasing snacks that questionably “healthy,” and usually overpriced, make your own. It’s not as difficult or time-consuming as you may think and will definitely save you money. For more tips on this, see my post “Make & Pack Your Own Healthy Snacks.”
WHAT SHOULD I EAT?
Perhaps you’re wondering what qualifies as “real” food as apposed to “fake.” Here are some suggestions I’ve adapted from Rick Warren’s “The Daniel Plan” and Joel Fuhrman’s “Eat to Live” plan.
danielplanfoodstoeat (1)
eat-to-live-plan (1)
To summarize, DAILY you should:

Eat at least one large salad
Eat at least one double-size serving of cooked vegetables
Eat three servings of fruit
Eat at least 1/2 a cup of beans or lentils
Eat at least one ounce of raw nuts or seeds
As you can see in the second photo, Joel Furhman’s Eat to Live Pyramid can be broken down like this:
30-60% of calories consumed = Vegetables (1/2 cooked, 1/2 raw)
10-40% of calories = Fruits
10=40% of calories = Beans/Legumes
10-40% of calories = Seeds, Nuts & Avocados
20% or less of calories = Whole Grains & Potatoes
Less than 10% of calories = Eggs, Fish, & Fat-Free Dairy
Rarely = Sweets, Beef, Cheese, & Processed Foods
Rick Warren’s “food plate” looks a little different, but has the same basic idea:
-50% = non-starchy veggies
-25% = healthy animal or vegetable proteins
-25% = healthy starch or whole grains
-One side of low-glycemic fruit
-Drink water or caffeine-free herbal teas
 
WHAT IS A SERVING?
If you’re like me, you’re confused by the term “serving.” I used to be clueless as to what equaled a serving when it came to fruits and vegetables. As a general rule, 1 serving usually equals a half cup or 1 piece of fruit. Here is a list of servings sizes for commonly eaten fruits and vegetables:

1 Small Apple  = 1 serving

1 Whole Peach = 1 serving

3 Broccoli Spears = 1 serving

12 Baby Carrots = 1 serving

1 Large Tomato = 1 serving

1 Large Sweet Potato = 1 serving

1 Large Ear of Corn = 1 serving

2 Large Celery Stalks = 1 serving

2 Cups of Raw Greens = 1 serving

1 Cup Cooked Greens = 1 serving

1 Large Bell Pepper = 1 serving

1 Large Banana = 1 serving

8 Large Strawberries = 1 serving

2 Large Plums = 1 serving

32 Grapes = 1 serving

1/2 cup Raisins = 1 serving

WHAT IF I DON’T LIKE VEGETABLES?

No worries, there are some very creative ways to “hide” vegetables in tasty, everyday recipes!
Making a casserole? Throw in some cooked spinach or mushrooms.
Blending up a smoothie? Include fresh kale or spinach (you won’t taste it)!
Using the grill? Alternate chunks of meat and pineapple with peppers, onion, tomatoes, and mushrooms.
Baking muffins? Add shredded carrots or zucchini to the mixture.
Making meatloaf? Add mixed vegetable medley into the recipe.
Having pasta? Dice and saute vegetables like carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, or spinach, then cover with marinara sauce.
Eating Pizza? Spread olives, spinach, mushrooms, etc. before sprinkling cheese on top.
In the mood for Mexican? Set up bowls with lettuce, tomatoes, olives, etc. for make-your-own-tacos.
WHAT IF I’M SICK OF TOSSED SALAD?
I hear you. After my doctor gave me the very short list of foods I was allowed to eat while being treated for Lyme Disease, I became very fed up with salad after 6 months. I then went on a strike against salad for the following 6 months. Thankfully I’ve now found a variety of ways to eat salad, so I eat one nearly every day. Here are some interesting and tasty alternatives if you have become fed up with eating salad.
What are your favorite “real food” recipes?
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